The Q&A Archives: Perennial Herb Care

Question: I am starting several different varieties of herbs by seed. After they are transplanted outside, and well established, how can I prepare the plants for the winter so they return in the spring as healthy plants? I am growing thyme, oregano, and catnip. Can I bring them into the house so they avoid dormancy and continue growing so I can have fresh herbs all winter? I am also starting two varieties of basil. As an annual, can I bring it indoors when the weather cools to keep it growing year round? Also, can you provide the necessary sun/moisture requirements for these herbs. My back yard faces South and gets full sun all day- very hot in the summer months, and that is where they will be planted.


Answer: Thyme, oregano and catnip all prefer full sun and a well drained soil. Basil, however, might prefer morning sun or a bit of afternoon shade as well as ample water, especially when the temperatures rise.

Thyme and oregano can be dug and potted up in the fall, or you can start new plants in midsummer (layer, root cuttings, or seed) to bring indoors. This might be a better idea since these sunlovers often suffer during the long winter with reduced light levels. You could experiment with bringing the catnip indoors as well, although since it is not a culinary herb it might be more effective to simply dry it in quantity during the summer so you have some available for use in the winter. Oregano and thyme also dry well for winter use. (Basil in my experience is better frozen, but can also be dried.)

Basil is simply not very long lived. It is possible to root late season cuttings of basil to bring indoors, another possibility is to start new plants from seed. Over time, this plant tends to bolt or go to seed and once this happens the plant will deteriorate.

In terms of winter preparation, the perennials need simply be mulched, meaning place mulch over their root zones but not over their tops. In late fall, trim away frost killed tops. In early spring, again remove any winter damaged portions and give them a trim to stimulate fresh new growth. The ke to winter survival is that the roots not become waterlogged, so make sure your soil is well drained and that they are not planted in a "low spot" or similarly wet location.

Have fun with your herbs!

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